8 December, Shaxi (China) | Day 190 🇨🇳
I’m not used to write down the detailed history of my days (as I think it’s boring for me and for those who read me), but today I’ll make an exception.
What will follow may seem coming out of my fantasy, but nothing is invented.
A surreal day, between dreams and reality, which I’ll keep forever among my best memories.
Of this journey, and of my life.
I had chosen to remain one more day in Shaxi, because I like it very much, and so I did.
I didn’t want to be lazy for hours, like yesterday, so I asked the boys from the hostel what I could do to spend my last day at its best.
I was told to go to visit the Shibaoshan, a complex of Buddhist temples, rocky sculptures and imperial grottoes, dating back to over 13 centuries ago.
With a local bus I could reach the entrance and the first Temple, and then walk or take another bus passing all the scenic 9 kms, full of historical wonders, of the place.
“But if you want, you can also start walking from here and reach the Shizhong Temple in a few hours. That Temple is the last one you’d find on the classic circuit and is also the most beautiful one. There is a very ancient path which takes you over the mountains here next to the village. Almost noone walks it anymore and you would also avoid to pay the ticket, as you’ll arrive there from behind.” – they also added, almost as if they were revealing a secret.
“I don’t care about the 65 Yuan ticket – I answered – also because, if I want to visit the grottoes, I guess I will still have to pay. But, yes, I’d rather walk. I’d rather gain it with my strenght, the result. Whatever it is.”
So I left around 10, while the village was slowly awakening and all the locals, freezing in their open shops, were smiling surprised at me as I was dressed only with shorts, shirt and usual woollen hat.
After about one hour on a cement road I take the bend for Shadeng village and reach the entrance of a still shadowed little valley.
I’m not sure I’m on the right direction, but two old ladies carrying loads of wood on their back nod at me, smiling an ensuring “yes”.
A white lonely dog runs with me for ten minutes, as he wanted to bring me to the first trail. We play together until I spot the Red Temple – the first of the direction points the guys from the hostel told me not to miss – and I calm down.
The path is really the right one.
Then I begin two hours of hard trekking, between wooden bridges, hundreds of steps, muddy and rocky paths, blinding sun, brushwood, doubts and extreme, almost distressing, loneliness.
But I’m surrounded by silence and wonder, and I don’t want to stop.
I reach the top of the mountain, and the path continues on a plateau that leads me to the Shizhong Temple.
I spot it from above, ecstatic, while a slight flute music comes to my ears.
I stare at the space, drink some water and snap a few photos, before I follow down some other steps and look for the entrance.
When I step into the main court it’s one o’clock, and the sun stands fierce on my head.
There is no one, apart from me and the 4 men who work in the Temple, as guides or attendants, hidden in some shadow.
They are practicing, each of them, different kind of arts.
The first is writing on a book.
The second is playing a flute.
The third is watering flowers.
The fourth is painting Chinese characters, with one big brush, on a ping pong table.
I greet them, as I approach to the bench where two of them are sitting.
I am hungry and pretty tired.
There’s not even a noise.
Only the whistle of some birds, the sound of the wind between the plants and the whispers of the falling leaves.
Jinliang – the first of the four men – puts his book aside and starts talking to me.
He’s studying English and it’s clear that he wants to exercise the language, wishing also to loosen the boredom of an unusual quite lazy day.
“You know, during the high season we got almost 2000 visitors per day in this Temple – he reveals, pouring me some tea and offering cookies – but today you are the first. It’s strange. Where are you from? Do you want to talk a little? If you want I can also guide you to see the grottoes, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the ticket. It would be my pleasure, and maybe you can also help me with my English.”
“Of course! It would be an honour.” – I confess, while I’m wandering through the court, tea in hand, fascinated by the gestures of the fourth man working on the ping pong table.
“Do you like Chinese writing?” – he asks.
“I don’t know anything about it, but I am very curious. It seems to me that you’re drawing. What are you writing?” – I tell him, still enchanted in his gestures.
“A Chinese poetry. It relaxes me a lot. Young people don’t do it anymore, because it’s boring at the beginning. But when you handle this art it is almost better than music. I’m glad you like it.” – he closes shortly, seeing that Jinliang is waiting for me to start the private tour.
I reach him, and he walks with me for more than half an hour in every corner of the Temple, telling me about dynasties, Chinese beliefs, ethnic minorities, Buddhist gods and various bodhisattva, stopping every time to read along with me the English captions. I’m surprised by the level of his language – certainly a way better than the Chinese average – and thank him from the heart, at the end of his explanations.
As we go back to the court, I can see that Yun Xin – the “Writer” – is waiting for me cause he wants to paint a new paper in front of me, to be given as a gift.
Within a minute of magical movement he completes a small, simple work which for me is like a gem.
I ask him what’s written in it.
“It’s another poetry:
YOU PLANT A WILLOW TO SEE AS SOMETHING GROWS.
YOU PLANT A PINE TO FEED YOUR QI, AND YOURSELF.”
I’m shocked and assure him sincerely, that “this is one of the most unexpected and generous gifts I have ever received” and thank him sincerely, while I sit on a rock heated by the sun.
Jinliang is back to write on his book, Yun Xin on the ping pong table.
The other two don’t say a word, but never stopped taking care of the flowers and playing the flute.
I look at the sky, listening to the wind, and I tend my ears outward.
Then I close my eyes and, for a moment, it happens.
The world stops, and me with him.
I don’t know exactly what happened, but for a few short moments I inhale a feeling of full bliss I was never before touched by.
So close to understand an explanation.
So close to understand the meaning of things.
Then I sip my tea again and I get up, to go away.
“You can take a bus from here and get to another Temple – Jinliang explains me – or take another one and return to Shaxi.”
But I answer that “for today I think I received much more than I could ask. I don’t need anything more, and I prefer to go back from where I came, only with my forces, and follow again the path that led me here, beyond my expectation, to enjoy some of the most true and deep emotions I have ever experienced.”
The path back, even if it’s the same one I took in the morning, now seems to be different.
The same steps, the same brushwood, the same rocky and muddy paths, the same blinding sun.
Also the same solitude, but not extreme and distressing anymore.
The same way, but a new one.
It takes me maybe one hour, maybe two. Honestly I don’t know.
As I get to the bottom of the valley, I look again for the white dog. He doesn’t show up.
Squirrels and birds I’m not able to define, instead of him.
Shortly before I embrace again the cement road, I come across a group of guys. 5 of them, sitting at the edge of a bridge, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and playing cards.
I’m invited to cheer with a Dali beer.
I make them happy, and so do to myself.
I stay with them for a while, no way to understand even a single word they say, but laughing, drinking and raising our bottles.
I don’t know what time it is, but I don’t care.
Just a few seconds before I leave them, while the sun is going down and the cold begins to give me shivers, I realize that there are dozens of empty bottles scattered on the ground.
I collect them one by one and fill a pack.
Then I bring it away with me.
After so much receiving, today, the only thing I can do to give something back is cleaning up a few meters of field, and it makes me feel better.
So I start walking again, up to reach the main road towards Shaxi.
I don’t feel any weights and I’m fast and light. No shivers anymore.
A small cart stops next to me and two new guys ask me if I need a lift.
I’m not tired, but I accept.
They leave me in front of their home, where I lay down the pack full of empty bottles, which someone will come to clean up.
How many hours in total?
Lights are low now.
It might be the sunset, as well as a brand new dawn.
I feel calm, nothing could touch me.
The day is almost gone, and I don’t know if I have lived it for real or if I ventured myself into a dream I’ll not be able to exit from.
The world started moving again, and me with it.
I have to start writing, in order to believe it was real.
Although, before doing it, I take a look at my hands and find out that something it’s still there, reminding me that, yes, everything was real.
Something that shines also through the dark night, and always will.
Yun Xin’s poetry.